Border Crossing

I had been warned about this.  I should’ve known better, but I was feeling pretty savvy after a month in rural Ecuador.

“Hey friend, I’ll help you out” was the first sign that Eduardo didn’t want to help me out.  But the immigration line was long and the border market looked overwhelming, so I figured that I could play along just enough to get into Peru.  Then I’d ditch him.

The border market was a labyrinth: serpentine rows filled with monkeys and parrots, snakeskins and a pharmacopeia of other animal parts.  Sketchy women invited me into sketchier buildings.  The crowd turned me and pushed me and left me certain that I’d cross back into Ecuador and think it was Peru.  I was glad to have a guide.

We walked into an alley where a car was waiting.  The plan was to set a specific destination so I could ditch them at that stop.

“I want to go to the border station”
“yes yes, this is good”
“good, I need to go to the border station”
“yes good, we will take you there”
“thank you, cause I need another stamp at the border station”

Three times was normally enough to cover any gaps in my broken Spanish.

A couple of other guys got in and we eased through the crowd and onto the road.  Plywood shacks and bright blue drink carts passed by.  Then the border station also whizzed past.


“Hey! The border station!”
“No problem, it’s not necessary to stop”
“But I want to.  Stop here”
“No, no problem we’ll take you to Tumbes”
“No.  Here is good, stop please.”
“Here is nowhere, we’ll take you to Tumbes.  $40 good price”

At this point the guy up front handed the driver $40

“See” said Eduardo “Good price”
“No no no, 5 is too much, 40 is crazy”

I don’t like haggling in the markets, but here it felt like much more was at stake.

We yelled at each other.  I wished I had gotten smaller bills as I handed them a twenty.  Then we yelled some more as I demanded my change and they demanded another twenty.

Finally they stopped and in the end I got away lucky: with only my backpack thrown down the dirt bank.

I caught a small bus to Tumbes for fifty cents.  While waiting for the next bus out of town I sat and angrily ate grilled tilapia and mangos.

As the Pacific stretched to the west, palm trees became silhouetted in the sun.  Groups of men pulled nets or colorful boats onto the sand.  Sometimes we were separated from the beach by red rock cliffs.   Other times we were close enough to feel the spray of waves crashing against those rocks.

It was all lost on me.  I was livid.  All I could do was replay the border.  In my imagination it would escalate and become a fight or I would suavely leave them in the byzantine border market or they would drive me down a random back road and I wouldn’t come out.

At some point the beauty was enough to break through my madness.

I was not struck by how lucky I was and I wasn’t sad that I’d missed the last three hours of my life.  Instead I was dumbfounded by how hard it was to forgive.

I’ve always seen myself as a forgiving person yet here I was fuming over fifteen bucks.  As the bus jostled and I reflected I couldn’t remember a single time when I had said “I forgive you.”

I still struggle to.  The words feel too big or too awkward.  Really though it just feels too vulnerable.  Forgiveness admits the full weight of the hurt and then reacts with openness: openness to the very cause of that hurt.  I’ve rarely had the courage to do this.

Instead it’s always: “that’s okay, it doesn’t matter.”  What this excusing does is diminish the wrong until I can pretend it didn’t hurt.  But this also diminishes myself and the other person.  Eventually this habit limits my world to the point where things really don’t matter.

As I sat on that bus, oblivious to the salty pacific and the juicy mango because I was lost in some fury, I became convinced that I’d rather take reality with its pain and beauty than diminish it into something comfortable.  And if that means crossing the border from excuses to forgiveness then that is the path I want to take.

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